Playing the VIctim: The Discretionary and Discriminatory Application of Victim Impact Statements by Federal Prosecutors in the USA

  • Tammy Krause

Student thesis: Phd


The apex of participatory rights for the crime victim in America is the right to give a victim impact statement in death penalty sentencing hearings.  Whilst the 'law in books' gives all murder victims' families the right to make a statement, in practice, this right is contingent upon the prosecutor, a fact overlooked in previous scholarship. This thesis explores the role prosecutorial discretion plays in the use of victim impact testimony through the first census of victim impact statements in federal death penalty cases.  It suggests that prosecutors use the victim impact statement in an essentially instrumental way to affect sentencing, rather than as an expression of the victim's right to participate in criminal trials. It is argued that prosecutors determine the utilisation of the victim impact statement based on their characterisation of offences-and therefore victims-as worthy or unworthy, concluding that the death penalty hearings on this basis are arbitrary and arguably thus unconstitutional.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHannah Quirk (Supervisor)


  • arbitrary
  • unconsitutional
  • death penalty
  • victim impact statement
  • prosecutorial discretion

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